TED Conversations

David Johnson

Remote Emergency Medical Responder, Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir

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Science is developing the tools towards de-extinction of species on the planet that have become extinct. The question becomes; Should we?

Stewart Brand and his colleagues are at the biotech precipice of reviving extinct species. The Revive and Restore project plans to not only bring species back but restore them to the wild, as well as protect currently endangered species.

I don't think any of us will have a problem with the latter, this discussion is focused on the primary goal; reintroduction of extinct species. We are not talking about dinosaurs here, but the Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Heath Hen, European Aurochs, Bucardo, The Taz Tiger, etc.

Up for debate here: Should we?

Where we can all appreciate the science being developed, we must discuss the implications of initiating projects like this. I submit we need to discuss this on behalf of the existing species that we have, as well as for the animals that are lost.

Some questions to consider:

Do we value the argument that we should 'undo the harm' that humans have caused in the past, due to over-hunting or destruction of habitat? Should we rewrite or undo history?

Many of these species have not been in the natural environment for 100 years. It is fair to say that the natural predators or prey of these species, the plants or insect life they feed on, the environments they roam through ... have altered in their absence. Has the cycle of the earth, moved on without them?

We have a long history of experiencing what can happen when biodiversity is altered by introducing a species not indigenous to the area in question. Cane Toads in Australia, Grey Squirrel in Europe or the Gypsy Moth.

Is this project actually an introduction of a species back into an environment that may not be able to sustain it as it once did?

Even though we can grieve the lost of the Dodo, should we bring it back at all costs?

Or as Daniel Chan asks below;

how can we effectively simulate the effects of introducing pre-existing species to the environment before actually doing so?

What other Questions should we ask?


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    Mar 18 2013: Since the beginning of our existence as a species, proto-humans and humans have been concerned with killing huge numbers of animals of many types for food and, more recently, for pleasure. It only seems appropriate that now we are developing the technology to undo the vast amount of damage that we and our long line of ancestors did. In the past several millennia human population has grown, in my opinion, totally out of control causing vast damage to habitats and to the populations of the other species on the planet. It is time for a wakeup call by which we must realize the planet's biosphere must be shared with others for the heath and safety of all beings whatever their niche. De-extinctions should become a major environmental priority across the globe.

    As with all human activities, there will be mistakes, dumb errors, and even misuses, yet the net result of revitalizing and re-diversifying the world's biomes seems to me to be one of the most positive and productive humanity can engage in.
    • Mar 19 2013: "the net result of revitalizing and re-diversifying the world's biomes seems to me to be one of the most positive and productive humanity can engage in."

      We have no way of knowing in advance what the net result will be. This project would be a huge gamble.

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